Archive | May 4, 2006

GRP-MILF peace talks:“Substantive gains” but no agreement yet on territory

(Note: As dispatched by MindaNews news service as of 04 May 2006 and will be posted in www.mindanews.com on 05 May 2006)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 May)  – Although “substantive gains” have been
achieved in the negotiation on ancestral domain during the three-day
exploratory talks that ended today in Kuala Lumpur, the Philippine
government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels have
acknowledged that “more work had to be done” on the issue of territory,
particularly in the “determination and delimitation of areas” that would
be put under the prospective Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

The ten-paragraph joint statement signed today (May 4) by government peace
panel chair Silvestre Afable, Jr. and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher
Iqbal noted that “significant progress” had been achieved in “defining the
concept, sharing the resources and establishing governance in the BJE” but
they were “held back from reaching full consensus by the highly technical
nature of discussions on the delineation and demarcation of territory.”

Both parties agreed to conduct “further ground validation” and collection
of additional data to guide them in the resolution of the remaining items.

At present, the governance entity that focuses on the Bangsamoro is the
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which comprises five provinces
and one city among Mindanao’s 25 provinces and 27 cities:  Sulu,
Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan and the Islamic City of
Marawi.

But the MILF had repeatedly said the ARMM is not the juridical entity it
envisions. What the proposed BJE is, the panels are still discussing.

Iqbal declined to go into the details on the BJE. “We cannot go in
details. The details are still confidential,” he told MindaNews in a
telephone interview evening of May 4.

But Iqbal said the MILF and government peace panels will talk to those who
are registering their opposition to the proposed BJE as well as other
sectors that need to be enlightened on what this political structure is.
The government of Zamboanga City has been very vocal against inclusion in
the proposed BJE, claiming the people had spoken in the 1989 and 2001
plebiscites.

“We have a joint advocacy with government . We will reach out to all,”
Iqbal said.

In the KL talks, the panels also agreed to “immediately” activate a joint
advocacy team “to formulate and undertake a program of public information
aimed at raising broad awareness or, and support for, the peace process.”

Government peace panel chair Afable told MindaNews that the joint advocacy
team will be activated very “very soon.”

“They are just coordinating schedules,” Afable said in a telephone interview.

Afable said the government panel representatives in the joint advocacy
team are vice chair Rudy Rodil and Sylvia Paraguya while the MILF panel
representatives are Datu Michael Mastura and Maulana “Bobby” Alonto.

On the BJE, Afable said the two panels are negotiating on the range of
political structures. “We don’t want to put a label to it (the structure)
until it’s firmed up,” he said,  adding this is the reason why it is being
referred to as BJE. “It’s a structure of government.”

The City Council of Zamboanga in Resolution 962 passed on November 24,
2005, expressed its “strong opposition” to the inclusion of the city in
the proposed BJE, citing the overwhelming No votes in the 1989 and 2001
plebsicites.

Under the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws, residents are asked
in a plebiscite if they wish to be part of a new juridical entity.  In the
13 provinces and nine cities originally listed as “areas of autonomy”
under the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, residents there have had to vote thrice
– 1977, 1989 and 2001, if they wanted to be part of the autonomous region.

The Marcos administration set up two regional autonomous governments. The
Aquino administration had the autonomous region included in the 1987
Philippine Constitution but only four Moro-dominated provinces said yes to
inclusion in the ARMM in the November 1989 plebiscite.

The Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)
signed a “final peace agreement” on September 2, 1996, allowing for, among
others, the passage of a law that would provide for the expansion of the
ARMM.

But in the August 2001 plebiscite on the 1996 agreement, only one province
and one city– Basilan, and the  Islamic City of Marawi – joined the
“expanded” ARMM.

In the KL meeting, the government and MILF peace panels also agreed to
request Malaysia, Brunei and Libya to extend the mandate of their
contingents in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and to “expand the
composition of the IMT to include the participation of other nations in
monitoring the rehabilitation and development work related to the peace
process.”

The Panels also agreed to extend the mandate of the AHJAG(Ad Hoc Joint
Action Group) Interim Guidelines for a period of one year once its mandate
ends on June 21, 2006.

The IMT and AHJAG are major players in the implementation of the ceasefire
agreement between the government and the MILF as they have helped prevent
skirmishes from escalating into full-blown wars.

The AHJAG provides for a joint coordination on the pursuit of criminal
elements and terrorists in so-called “MILF areas.”

The two peace panels also agreed to “move forward” the establishment of
the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI). In this
endeavor, the parties are assisted by the Malaysian Technical Cooperation
Program (MTCP) and the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP).

They also welcomed the entry of the United Nations World Food Program and
other organizations in Mindanao to support the peace process prior to the
signing of the comprehensive agreement and that this should be “in
coordination with the Bangsamoro Development Agency.” (Carolyn O.
Arguillas/MindaNews)

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